By Dr. Ipsita Pradhan: March is a very important month in the calendar. No, not just because it’s the end of the financial year, but because International Women’s day falls in this month. And being a woman, it always gives me pleasure that a specific day has been dedicated for me and billions of human beings like me, who represent 49.58% of the world population.
All of us are aware that 8th March is being celebrated as International Women’s day every year. From the beginning of the month invitations to attain various felicitation programmes and meetings, messages of greetings and special discounts on various stores keep flowing.
Organizations and offices arrange cake, gifts and throw parties to cheer-up their female employees. Male friends keep sending messages to wish for the privilege of being a woman. Female friends keep messaging to feel proud and light-hearted. Overall we feel cheer, joy, happiness, enthusiastic and energetic with the thoughts of a day being specifically allocated to celebrate womanhood. Articles, talk-shows loaded with tons of success stories and TV programmes presenting the glittering, shining faces of award winning glamorous ladies are presented before us.
Thousands of speeches and papers advocating gender equality are streamed. Ladies at respectful and successful positions at workplaces and society try to motivate the rest of the race with brilliant talks. The environment is filled with power-pack motivational speeches and noise of applause. While enjoying the sweetness of the success stories and cakes served to us, I often question myself “if we’ve achieved this level of success then what’s the need of dedicating a special day for women? Why are we still talking about the need for equality, special provisions, laws and efforts?”
Is it because in the last report of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2021 we have witnessed that the crime against women has been raised to 64.5% from 56.5% in the year 2020? Or because of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM)’s report which suggests 43% of the girls of India get married before the age of 18 years? Or because every other day we hear a heinous story of any Shraddha or Niki being murdered, chopped and kept in refrigerators by their intimate partner? Or not in just somewhere in the country but in our national capital, a father shoots his daughter dead, abandons and throws her body locked in a suitcase on some road side, just because she was meeting a boy who doesn’t belong to their community? Or every now and then a girl in your locality gets teased on the road, being harassed at the office or being forced to leave her job for the sake of her family?
According to the NCRB report for the year 2021 the total number of registered crimes against women were about 4,28,278. Most astonishing part is among all the cases, 31% account for domestic violence and murder of women by their husbands or his relatives in India. Total registered cases under cruelty by husband or his relatives in 2021 were 1,36,192. The National Commission for Women in 2020-21 received 26,513 domestic- violence complaints from women.
The cases of assaults and molestation accounts for 20.8%. In 2021 a total of 6800 dowry death cases were reported in India. NCRB report said 45,026 females committed suicide in 2021 in the country, of whom more than half i.e. 23,178 were housewives. Total 31,677 rape cases were registered in the year 2021, indicating every day in our country about 87 – 88 rapes are occurring! In India total 56,519 minor girls have been abducted in 2021. Similarly according to the NRHM report every year around 25000 adolescent girls die either during pregnancy or during labors. And around 9% of these girls are between the age of 15 – 19 years. According to a report of National Family Health Survey 4, published in 2017, in our country around 11.8 million adolescent girls get pregnant.
During the survey it was noted that around 7.9% of girls between the age group of 15 – 19 are either pregnant or have already given birth to their first child. The rate of such cases is around 9.2% in rural India whereas in urban India it’s about 5%. Though I couldn’t gather the exact data on female foeticide in India, the sex ratio of 2001 census showing 933 women for every 1000 male can be taken as an indicative. The 2011 census data showed a further declining trend in the child sex ratio of 918 girls for every 1000 boys, which was 976 in 1961.
In 2020, the female child mortality rate for India was 33 deaths per thousand live births. These trends indicate we are not just depriving girls of human rights, we are also depriving them of their right to live. And India is not the only country which witnesses such fearful circumstances, but the entire world is suffering from the same situation. According to a report published in 2021, worldwide around 14% of girls give birth to their first child before reaching the age of 18. And 60% of them neither get proper health care nor there is proper spacing between 2 consecutive pregnancies, which is a leading cause of death and various health hazards in girls between 15 -19 years old.
This crucial situation is not only limited upto female foeticide/ infanticide or teenage pregnancy or crimes like dowry deaths or rapes, but situations are not less alarming at working places also. According to a report published in The Guardian, worldwide yearly 54000 women lose their job for maternity leave discrimination. Providing a good period of maternity leave doesn’t solve the problem itself, but providing suitable and supporting circumstances at workplaces after returning from leave is also important. According to reports, around 70% of India’s working women struggle to resume their careers after family leave.
Women avail family leave for three major reasons: first, they leave to raise children; second, to prepare their children for exams; and third, to care for the elderly. Also the rising number of sexual harassment cases against women at workplaces can never be neglected, the total number of cases registered in 2022 remained 759, which was 595 in 2021. At workplaces women hold only 35% of senior level leadership posts, compared to men of 65%, whereas they make up almost half of the workforces. If we look at the participation of women in running the parliaments, then by October 2019 it was 24.5% ( global participation).
For most of the situations and problems I cited above, the fundamental causes are almost the same: lack of education, poor financial condition, unavailability of income sources, poor knowledge on present laws and available facilities. Education doesn’t mean being literate or able to grab a certificate or degree. By doing that we are only focusing on equality (according to the National Statistical Office (NSO) report the female literacy rate in India is approximately 70.3%) which we have been trying to bring for years. So at this moment of time we need to focus more on equity than on equality. Like I’ve mentioned problems from various fields of life, so of course the causes are different for each one of them, hence the path of solutions are also different.
Similarly the situation, family condition, level of education, physical and mental abilities, social upbringing differ from woman to woman. And at this hour we need to understand the differences first, then only we can provide adequate assistance, support and opportunities for them. And this is the theme of this 2023’s Women’s day celebration: embrace equity. When we would learn to understand the difference between equality and equity then only we can bring equality at all levels? Then only we can enjoy the vibe of women’s day in a true sense.
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